Ad Meter: Clydesdale wins by a nose

1:03 PM, Feb 4, 2013   |    comments
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Photo via Merlin FTP Drop.

Anheuser-Busch climbed back into the saddle as No. 1 with a heart-tugging commercial about the raising and training of one of its iconic Clydesdale's.

But it was a tight horse race.

Ad Meter results:

This was the Super Bowl when ads with heart got all the love in USA TODAY'S Ad Meter, which, for it's 25th anniversary, vastly expanded in scope by going online to 7,619 pre-registered panelists.

Procter & Gamble's Tide laundry detergent pulled off an unlikely feat Sunday night finishing No. 2, ahead of many Super Bowl regulars.

The ad is about an image of football legend Joe Montana miraculously showing on a sudden salsa stain on a rabid fan's jersey. The miracle stain causes a media uproar and becomes a relic of worship until the player's wife -- who happens to be a Baltimore Ravens fan -- washes the stain out with Tide.

For P&G, the road to nearly achieving advertising nirvana has been long, slow but focused. P&G, once ridiculed for its advertising, has become a regular in studious attendance at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival â€" the largest and most prestigious gathering of ad executives worldwide. Its ads have continued to improve from pure product demonstrations to humorous slices of life with product as hero.

Chrysler's two-minute spot for Ram pickups trucks, in third place, focused on a celluloid hug for the American farmer, featuring photographic images of farmers and their work. For the ad's narrative, the carmaker turned to an old commentary by conservative radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, who died in 2009. His comments extol the virtues of American farmers, whose hard works seems to put them as about as close to God as anyone can get.

A second two-minute Chrysler ad for Jeep saluted military veterans. Airing just before the third quarter, it was in the top five also. Chrysler proved something Sunday night that every Super Bowl marketer must remember for years to come: patriotism still sells. As do longer tales told well â€" even in an age of instant YouTube clips.

Some 55 commercials that cost 40 advertisers $3.8 million to $4 million per 30-second slot for the airtime were in the CBS broadcast, which was expected to be watched by up to 111 million viewers. The game was marred by a 31-minute blackout, which may have cost many second-half advertisers millions of viewers.

In a statement, CBS said no advertiser lost air time due to the power outage. "All commercial commitments during the broadcast are being honored," it said.

The Budweiser winner, about a guy who breeds and raises a Clydesdale, only to wistfully watch it leave for the big-time -- then, three years later, at a big-city parade, man and horse re-unite in an emotional embrace.

"That was absolutely heart-warming," says Tyler Stocks, an Ad Meter panelist and journalist from Greenville, NC. "When I think of Budweiser, I think Clydesdale horses."

For A-B, whose major brand beer sales have taken a hit in recent years, it's a return to marketing glory after slipping out of Ad Meter's Top Five last year. Through the years, A-B has won 12 Ad Meters, more than any other advertiser.

Executives were toasting the win at A-B Sunday night. Paul Chibe, vice president of U.S. marketing, says he's incredibly proud of the Clydesdale ad. It "touches a chord," in consumer hearts, he says.

The baby Clydesdale featured in the A-B ad was born on Jan. 16. Prior to the big game, A-B launched a social media campaign asking consumers to suggest names for the young horse via social media. Among the names offered up: Barley, Buddy and Brewster. A-B expects to announce the foal's name on Tuesday.

For the first time in years, the Super Bowl took place at a time of relative national calm. Unlike the air of uncertainty during last year's Big Game, when America stood at an economic and political crossroads, this year, that road has been crossed. A president has been re-elected. A weak economy and soft job market appear to be on the mend.

So, with a decent chunk of the American public feeling a bit better about themselves and the direction of the nation, Super Bowl advertisers figured it was time to let loose. Most of the commercials were overflowing with spectacle, scantily-clothed bodies and visual and audio pyrotechnics. This must be what viewers really want, right?

Wrong. What most of Sunday night's viewers really wanted weren't ads that go whiz, bang and pop. That's too easy. What they preferred were ads that told a simple story with a wisp of wonder. Folks wanted ads that made them feel good. Most effective on Sunday night: the few ads that plucked the heartstrings. Amid the wreckage of Sunday Night's mostly overdone ad fest, Madison Avenue must admit this: simple is hard.

"It's almost unfathomable to believe corporate sponsors paid millions of dollars to create those overall woeful ads, and then, paid even further millions to show those ads during the Super Bowl," says Kitty Grubb, an attorney from Seminole, Fla.

But viewers loved the ads about heart-felt reunions. For A-B, man and horse. For Chrysler, soldier and family.

Chrysler's high-scoring ad positions it not only as a marketer whose messages must be watched, but as one whose designs and sheet metal for historic brands like Jeep and Ram trucks, may suddenly be worth a second look.

"This is the kind of ad that America needs to see . . . hope, love, faith, patriotism . . . all of the things that America is desperately looking for . . . and needs," says Frank Slezak, a fashion photographer from Horsham, Pa.

Doritos, meanwhile, finished fourth with a touching ad about a father whose daughter talks him into prancing around in a tutu for a bag of Doritos).

For the eight consecutive year, Doritos turned to consumers to create and select its Super Bowl spots. The chipmaker has fully embraced social media and crowd sourcing, asking consumers to not only create its Super Bowl commercial but also select, via online voting, the ads that will air.

Other Super Bowl ad trends on Sunday:
Social chit-chat. A common thread ran though many of the top-scoring ads: they'd been viewed on YouTube and talked about on Facebook and Twitter for days. Increasingly, advertisers are embracing a new social media platform that demands advertisers give the goods early â€" well before the game â€" so that millions of folks can see them long before the clutter and confusion of The Big Game.

Ads go long. Who'd a thunk, in age of instant gratification, that two advertisers would choose to air three Super Bowl spots that are each two-minutes long? Chrysler do it twice. And Samsung jumped on the train, with a spot featuring three actors in search of the next big thing â€" who happens to be LeBron James. (Isn't he already a big thing?)

Sex with a twist. Sexy babes sipping soda or ogling guys just don't have the Super Bowl thrill any longer. Perhaps that's why GoDaddy put super model and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit iisue cover girl Bar Refaeli, into a 30-second, in which she French-kisses a be-spectacled, chubby geek for a full 18-seconds. The close-up smackeroo was an utter turn-off for many viewers.

By Bruce Horovitz


Gannett/USA Today

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